Feminism 101

I figure if a book is good enough for every 16 year old in Sweden, it’s probably worth my time. So after guiltily letting it decorate our coffee table for a couple weeks, I read “We Should All Be Feminists,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay (adapted from her 2012 TED talk) about the importance of the paleo diet. Just kidding. It’s about feminism, duh.

You might have heard the TED version sampled on Beyonce’s “Flawless.” But if you need any further convincing to check it out, read on.

In a quick and deeply relatable 64-page glimpse into her Nigerian upbringing, Adichie reminds us that feminism is a way of life, practiced on a daily basis in gestures big and small. Adichie’s humor and honesty make you cheer for her from the beginning. You’ll wince and smile along with her all-too-familiar struggles as a girl finding her footing as a woman.

And the takeaway is this — feminism is not a dirty word or an extremist movement. It is not a call for a hostile female takeover of the world, it is not something only defined by the fact “you don't wear makeup, you don't shave, always angry, you don't have a sense of humor.” Adichie defines a feminist as “a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.” Much like the essay, this definition is simple and cuts through the politicization that can so often act as a barrier to understanding what it truly means to be a feminist. Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated essay on the topic, but that’s not the point. “We Should All Be Feminists” is reminder for us all to push for more, demand change and refuse to stop because things are “better.” Better is not enough.

I can only hope that when I pass the book onto my teenage niece (don’t worry, I’ll send her some chocolates, too), she gets the message. That she’s worth as much as any man, that she can be strong and feminine and confident and delicate and everything she wants to be. Adichie, the Swedes and her aunt are pulling for her.

Resolute-ish

I have two very simple new year's resolutions: do more of what makes me happy and healthy and do less of what doesn’t. Cliché and oversimplified? Yeah, kind of. Impossible to keep track of? Maybe. But I’m going to try. Before I do anything this year, I aim to ask myself, no matter how briefly, “is this something that will have a positive impact on me?” Obviously, I’ll skip this step countless times and order those damn delicious biscuits and gravy or sit on my butt and bingewatch “Jane the Virgin” for way too long, but that’s fine. Hell, those indulgences might even get a “yes” sometimes, when I’ve been religiously counting calories and need a break, or if I’m in need a couple hours of hilarious telenovela-inspired hijinks after a tough week at work.

This isn’t a vow to not ever do those things, it’s a promise to do them for the right reasons. I don’t want to mindlessly chow down on comfort food because I’m bored or sad or stressed. I don’t want to waste hours on TV shows or Facebook or reading books I hate just because I’m too lazy to do anything else. Sure, new year’s resolutions can be silly and overwrought and too-easily broken, but let’s at least try. My well-being is too important to me not to at least try use a "fresh start" for all it's worth.

Here’s the list of what I’m striving for in 2016:

  • Volunteer routinely again. I’m already tackling this by applying to volunteer at the Dane County Humane Society to play with kitties — a win-win, really.
  • Read more of what matters to me. It’s too easy to waste brain cells and thinking power scrolling through Facebook and clicking into bottomless Twitter link-holes.
  • Eat better and work out more. So original, right? It’s been an ongoing struggle for me, and it never hurts to write it down once more with more good intention.
  • Stop caring so damn much what other people think. Here’s a recent example: I suffered a moderate allergic reaction to an unknown substance, rendering my eyes red and puffy, and me unable to wear makeup. I spent the day at work self-conscious and offering apologetic explanations for my bare face. I mean, really? Apologizing for my face’s existence? Not in 2016.
  • Travel more. Trips to San Francisco and Hong Kong are already in the works, so that promises to be plenty of adventure for this gal. I’m hoping to fill in a couple long weekends with short road trips, and I’m enthusiastically hoping for visitors. C’mon over, friends.
  • Blog consistently. I started off pretty solidly with this thing last year and then life happened, and I let it slide. I’m working on a plan to make this a habit. Yell at me if you haven’t seen a post in awhile.

2016, let’s kick some ass.


Laughing at your own joke

One of my favorite podcasts, "How to Do Everything" from NPR, posed this challenge: Ban the exclamation point for 30 days (listen from the 2:44 mark). It's a juice cleanse for the written word. Full disclosure: I've already slipped up a few times  all in texts/messages to friends while sleepy and/or very excited.

I love efficiency in communication, something I'm learning to appreciate even more as a manager in an email-dependent work environment. Drafting emails to convey the necessary information in the right tone is vital and takes up way more time in my day than it should. I receive (and I'm sure we all do) an unbelievable amount of emails with questionable grammar, distracting PowerPoint-esque backgrounds and more exclamation points than the content warrants.

Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
— F Scott Fitzgerald

As discussed in the podcast, the most common spot for the now-banned excitable punctuation is in greetings. I already skip greetings in emails, so this doesn't prove an issue for me. My struggle is with the sign-off. I generally stick with the tried and true "Thanks."  But how to punctuate? Without an exclamation point, it can read demanding or sarcastic to me (maybe that's how I intend it in most cases and just don't want to admit it), with that dreaded line-and-period it seems more friendly, exciting, chipper even (things I usually am not but strive to have others perceive me as).

So let's just drop it. Is it really adding anything? If everything is exclaimed, nothing is exclaimed. As in most things, simplicity rules.

Does anyone care what word and corresponding punctuation is there as long as the rest of the message is clear and reasonable? Here's hoping they don't. Because from here on out, the exclamation point is the nuclear option  to be used only if I absolutely must cyber-yell about puppies falling like rain from the sky or guacamole replacing water in drinking fountains.

The Anxious Baker

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I'm an anxious person. If you leave me waiting more than five minutes, I automatically assume you must have died in a fiery car crash and the authorities weren't yet able to notify anyone. I spend my drives home from work or time trying to fall asleep replaying conversations and correcting myself with what I should have said and how that would have altered the universe.  I constantly pick at scabs and my nails, I over analyze problems to the nth degree, over and over and over, hoping some revelation will make the correct decision clear (CSI crime-solving style).  It's overwhelming. 

One way I've found to curb the crazy is baking. It's relatively mindless (read directions, read again, measure, stir, repeat) and there are often tasty results. As I readied myself for college at Michigan State University, I had all the same worries that have plagued incoming freshman since the beginning of time, like what if I oversleep and miss my first class or get hit by a rogue bus or forget everything I've ever learned up to this point and fail all my classes.

Good news: None of that happened.

But I needed something to do with my busy brain so I baked (kind of). I made a fail-safe treat and one of my favorites  No-Bake Cookies to bring with me to the dorms. Not only did it give me something to do, it also made for a fantastic first impression as the girl who brought cookies. I still make them often and have used them to ply coworkers, friends and family. My secret ingredient is anxiety, not love (sorry if you start sweating upon first bite). 

Take a deep breath and fire up the stove.

 

 
 
 

Tip: Have peanut butter ready to add, mix that first stir until melted, then add oatmeal and vanilla.

 

Crossroads of now and then

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I love history. I love the idea of using, seeing and interacting with artifacts of another time and place. I'm a gatherer of vintage items partially because I enjoy an eclectic decorating style but mostly because I savor small records of the past littering my life even if it's just an aluminum spoon rest, likely used by an average family in their ordinary kitchen. One of the most noticeable examples of these historic reminders is architecture. The foundation stays in place while the world changes around it and horse-drawn carriages then Model-Ts then hybrid vehicles whiz by. While driving through downtown Milwaukee recently, I couldn't help but notice the ornate and startlingly old-style Mitchell building (built in 1876). I snapped a photo on my phone while stopped at an automated electric traffic light  an action unimaginable to its builders. Read more about the building here.

 December 2014

December 2014

 Undated  —  likely mid-20th century

Undated likely mid-20th century

 About 1880

About 1880

This here is my blog.

Why don't I have a blog? 

I never really had a good answer for that, nothing more than a shrug and mumbling about free time and effort. So after toying with the idea of a blog for way too long, I've decided to make it happen. I know my dad will be pleased, since he kept insisting I should write more. Although I'm thinking he meant something more along the lines of Important Journalistic Work, this will have to do. 

This will be a catch-all for all the stuff I think about, want to share with the world and just need to get out of my system. I'll organize it loosely under a few categories -- Create (I want to make a cake, if it turns out alright I'll share a sliver), Read (you should all read/not read this book/article/blog I read), Do (things I've done, obviously), See (hey, look at this photo I took of a porcupine carrying a balloon down a maple-lined boulevard) and Opine (for feelings, whatever those are).

Return to high school

I began tutoring in a literacy class at a city high school in Madison at the beginning of this school year with the intention of helping a few students, lightening a teachers' load. The students are all things I remember being in high school: awkward, acne-prone, insecure, tired and perpetually hungry. (Hell, I'm still all those things.) But they have a disadvantage when it comes to school  they're well below their expected grade level in literacy, which can be a formidable barrier to academic success and steady employment.

One student (we'll call her A, for privacy's sake), shuffled into class late one day, looking distracted, totally zoned out. I didn't really think much of it but the teacher asked what was up and it turns out A's family was forced to move from their home and A would now be staying at friends' homes and with other family members for the time being. Devastating. But this doesn't stop her from continuing working at her retail job part time and attending school regularly. It hasn't stopped her from reading with me (and on her own) and independently seeking out supplemental material for the book. The resilience of this young woman, who in the face of many prohibitive factors, is still quick to smile when I ask where she got her awesome leggings amazes me.

These struggles, although not something I had to endure, are not entirely new to me.  As a student at Lansing Eastern High School (in Michigan)  a school deemed a "dropout factory," beset by financial woes and a one-way flow of students to suburban schools  I watched as peers moved into friends' houses, worked long hours at family-supporting jobs and took care of siblings.

Seeing the challenges faced with varying success by those peers whom the system was failing is what got me interested in volunteering in schools. It feels like there's nothing I can do on an individual level but at the same time I feel like I must try, like it's not an option but a duty. There's nothing fair or right about any of it. But I can't fix the system. I can't rewrite and undo years of laws and trends that reward families who live in the "right" districts with continued success and doom others to face disparaging odds at any kind of academic success.

So I do what I can and I tell myself, "maybe this works."

Maybe my two hours of reading and joking and high-fiving won't make a difference, but maybe it does. All I can hope for is that some of the "maybes" become "definitelys", become change.